Parents with a certain level of financial status have long exercised school choice through their choice of a residence and/or a private or parochial school in their community. Only a limited number of parents are able to make these kinds of choices, however.
In recent decades, in an effort to increase the number of parents with the ability to choose their child's school, states, and districts have been implementing a broad array of school choice programs:
- Magnet schools: These are schools specializing in a certain curricular area like science or the performing arts. Typically, such schools draw students from various attendance areas within a district, as well as from other districts.
- Open enrollment: Intradistrict open enrollment allows parents to send their children to a public school of their choice within their school district. Interdistrict open enrollment allows them to send their children to a public school of their choice in surrounding school districts.
- Charter schools: Founded by parents, educators, community groups, or private organizations, charter schools are essentially deregulated public schools. They are funded with public taxpayer money, and exchange a decrease in regulations and requirements for an increase in accountability.
- Vouchers: Vouchers are payments made to a parent or an institution on a parent's behalf, to be used to pay for a child's education expenses, usually at a private or parochial school. Though some voucher programs are financed through private sources, others use public tax dollars to fund tuition at private institutions.
- Tax credits and deductions: Some tax credits and deductions allow parents to redirect their tax dollars to offset some of the expenses incurred by sending their child to a private school. Other tax credits and deductions allow individuals and/or corporations to redirect their tax dollars to scholarship granting organizations, which, in turn, redistribute these contributions to students in the form of private school scholarships.
- Home schools: Home schooling is an alternative form of education in which parents or guardians bypass the public school system and teach their children at home.
- Dual/concurrent enrollment: Dual/concurrent enrollment allows secondary school students to enroll in postsecondary courses and apply course credit at the secondary school, a postsecondary institution or both.
- Innovation schools: An option for public schools whereby they can apply to their boards of education to be granted greater autonomy and flexibility in order to implement innovations.
All these school choice programs are designed to increase education options for students and their families, as well as to reconfigure the landscape of public education.